When vaping leads to popcorn lung, find out if you have the right to pursue legal action
Officially known as bronchiolitis obliterans, popcorn lung is a medical condition that scars the tiny airways in your lungs, called bronchioles. It got the name “popcorn lung” because it was first discovered in workers at a microwave popcorn factory.
Popcorn lung can cause a number of unpleasant symptoms, including coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. It isn’t curable, and it isn’t always treatable. Serious and undiagnosed cases have even ended in death.
Today, popcorn lung is most commonly associated with e-cigarettes.
The link between diacetyl and popcorn lung
Diacetyl is a compound that gives butter its characteristic flavor. It’s a naturally occurring chemical that’s safe to eat and drink, but it can become dangerous when directly inhaled. This is why it caused problems among popcorn factory workers who were working around its fumes all day long.
Products containing diacetyl
Diacetyl is found in a number of consumer goods, including:
- Butter and butter-flavored snacks, sprays and cooking oils
- Dairy products made from butter
- Baked goods
- E-cigarettes or vapes
Another common source of diacetyl is artificial flavoring. Its buttery taste is often used in “brown” flavors such as coffee, caramel and butterscotch. In this form, diacetyl can be found in everything from candy coating to the juices of vapes.
Other substances associated with popcorn lung
Diacetyl isn’t the only compound linked to the development of popcorn lung. Here’s a list of other agents and ingredients that can lead to the condition:
- Hydrochloric acid
- Mustard gas
- Sulfur dioxide
- Nitrogen oxide
- Fumes from metal oxides
These components can be found in everything from food preservatives to household cleaners. Like diacetyl, however, many of them need to be inhaled to be harmful. The length of exposure is another determining factor: Small amounts are likely to be fine, but large or continuous amounts can lead to medical risks.
How do you know if you have popcorn lung?
As a respiratory condition, most symptoms are related to breathing and may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Skin rash
- Night sweats
Another hallmark of the condition is that breathing becomes more difficult with exercise or physical labor. As your airways become stressed, the scars in your lungs will start to interfere with your breathing.
How is popcorn lung diagnosed?
Popcorn lung can be confused with other respiratory issues, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). To get an actionable diagnosis, you’ll need to visit your doctor and undergo testing. The most common tests for popcorn lung include:
- Chest X-rays
- CT scans
- Lung function tests
- Lung biopsy
Does popcorn lung go away?
The short answer is no. It can’t be cured, and the damage to your lungs is irreversible.
The good news is that you can treat the symptoms caused by popcorn lung. If you have difficulty breathing, for example, you can often start by using an inhaler. If you have a persistent cough because of irritated and inflamed airways, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids to bring down the swelling.
For more advanced cases of popcorn lung, you might be prescribed oxygen therapy. In the most extreme, life-threatening cases, your doctor might recommend a lung transplant.
Is popcorn lung deadly?
Unfortunately, popcorn lung can be fatal. While exact death statistics aren’t available, the American Lung Association has linked diacetyl, in particular, to hundreds of cases of popcorn lung. Its mortality lies in the fact that it can’t be cured, so early intervention is necessary to stop it from worsening.
Sadly, for some people, it can take years before they’re aware of the symptoms, by which time the condition has often progressed without them knowing.
The link between e-cigarettes and popcorn lung
Does vaping cause popcorn lung? The short answer is yes.
While it has been historically associated with things like butter and candy flavoring, e-cigarettes have become a common cause of popcorn lung today.
On top of that, it’s believed that inhaling the vapors of e-cigarettes can be harmful not only to the smokers themselves but to the people around them. It’s the same principle as popcorn factory workers falling ill. While popcorn lung itself isn’t contagious, it can be developed in shared environments full of toxic fumes.
Can I sue for popcorn lung?
If you suffer from popcorn lung, you might be able to file a lawsuit. It’s still an emerging legal field, but it’s gaining traction with more and more lawsuits being filed against e-cigarette companies. Below are some of your potential legal avenues for collecting compensation.
Product liability lawsuits
The most common legal option for victims of popcorn lung is a product liability lawsuit, which is a specific type of personal injury lawsuit for defective or harmful products. There are several entities that you can hold liable through this type of lawsuit, including:
- The manufacturer of the product
- The supplier or distributor for it
- The retailers that sold it
Wrongful death lawsuits
You might also be able to sue if you’ve lost a loved one to popcorn lung. This would be considered a wrongful death lawsuit, which is another type of personal injury claim.
The first wrongful death lawsuit associated with e-cigarettes was the case of Daniel David Wakefield, a 19-year-old who died from respiratory issues after vaping since the age of 15. His mother brought the suit against Juul, the manufacturer of a popular brand of e-cigarettes.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of February 2020, more than 2,800 hospitalizations have been linked to e-cigarettes and vaping in the U.S. Of those, 68 have resulted in death.
Famous popcorn lung settlement
In 2012, an American man named Wayne Watson won a lawsuit against a microwave popcorn manufacturer after developing popcorn lung. He’d been eating it for years, and he argued that its use of diacetyl was what caused his respiratory distress. He successfully sued for $7.2 million. The popcorn manufacturer Gilster-Mary Lee Corporation was held liable for 80% of the damages, and supermarket chain Kroger was held liable for the other 20%.
Potential compensation through a popcorn lung lawsuit
Damages in a personal injury lawsuit can take many forms, including the following:
- Repayment of medical bills
- Coverage for medications, therapies and other treatments
- Lost wages because of missed work
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Diminished quality of life
- Death benefits, such as funeral expenses for a loved one
Punitive damages may also be available through a popcorn lung lawsuit. These are damages that are meant to punish a defendant for especially negligent or willful actions and deter others from similar behavior.
How a personal injury attorney can help with a popcorn lung claim
If you’re ready to file suit because of popcorn lung, it’s a good idea to hire a personal injury attorney. As previously mentioned, lawsuits against e-cigarette companies are still a relatively new phenomenon, so there isn’t a lot of precedent for this type of legal work.
Attorneys are breaking new ground every day. By getting one on your side, you can better navigate the unique and ever-changing complexities of your lawsuit.
Contact Redondo Law for help with your popcorn lung lawsuit
At Redondo Law, we understand the seriousness of popcorn lung and how it can impact your quality of life. You don’t just need compensation for your immediate medical care and expenses; your future medical needs and earning ability need to be considered as well.
As an experienced Miami personal injury attorney, Mike Redondo has the knowledge and skills to fight for the justice and compensation you deserve. He’ll use his years of experience dealing with large corporations to ensure you receive the maximum financial assistance you’re entitled to for your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Contact Redondo Law today for a free, comprehensive consultation.